Around 44 million American children go trick-or-treating every year on Halloween. It is a holiday with traditions, decorations, food, and a community spirit. But does anyone know the history of Halloween?
Most holidays in the USA are easily traced to Christian traditions, but Halloween is secular. And it seems strange that a holiday celebrating candy, ghosts, and witches even exists anyway.
Are you wondering, “where did Halloween originate?” and “how is it so popular in the US?” If you are, read on to discover the fascinating history of this fun and frightening holiday.
Where Did Halloween Come From?
To uncover the history of Halloween, you need to travel way back in time and across the pond. It began over 2,000 years ago as a Celtic festival in countries like Ireland and Scotland. This festival was Samhain (pronounced sow-han).
The Celts celebrated this day by building bonfires and burning crops and animals as sacrifices. They wore costumes made from animal skins and heads, so no doubt they looked quite scary. This was intentional as they wanted to frighten away the ghouls that they believed appeared on this date.
Why Is Halloween on October 31?
To the Celts, this date was their version of New Year’s Eve. It signified the end of summer and harvest and the beginning of the dark, winter months.
It was also a very superstitious day. The Celts believed the dead could reawaken on this day and cause havoc with their crops, hence the costumes. They thought Celtic priests (Druids) got special fortune-telling powers, too.
When Did Samhain Become Halloween?
Like many pagan festivals, the Romans adapted and blended them with their own and with Christian celebrations. In 609 AD, the Pope named November 1, All Saints’ Day. And in 1000 AD, he made November 2, All Souls’ Day.
They celebrated All Souls’ Day by burning bonfires and wearing devil and angel costumes, like Samhain.
Many referred to All Saints’ Day as All-Hallowmas. So, the day before (the traditional Samhain date) became All-Hallows Eve. And after a few more years, Halloween.
When Was the First Halloween in the USA?
Halloween history continues in the USA thanks to immigration beginning in the 1600s. Many English Puritan settlers did not celebrate Halloween. But some did, and some Native Americans also celebrated the harvest with bonfires and ghost stories.
In the 1800s, there was an immigration boom from Ireland that helped popularize Halloween nationwide. The media encouraged families to remove any religious and spiritual aspects of Halloween. They wanted Halloween’s focus to be on community and secular family fun.
Today, Halloween decorations, games, and costumes bear a little (but not a lot) of resemblance to the original Samhain festival.
The History of Halloween Is Spiritual (but Not Scary)
The history of Halloween may not be as spooky and scary as you thought it would be. In reality, it is an ancient and spiritual holiday that transformed into the fun fall holiday that everyone loves today.
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